newyearIt’s that time of year again, where the pundits start pushing their predictions of the year ahead of us and what will change. That seems boring. Most of us live in a world influenced by that change, not in a world where we make that change. It’s like predicting what’s about to happen in a soap opera: it’s a fun game that ultimately means nothing if we’re right or if we’re wrong.

What we can change is ourselves. And so, I offer five resolutions for 2014 that apply to me just as much as they might apply to you. And since resolutions are so vague and unconnected to actual actions, I give the five rules that will help me (and maybe you) align to these resolutions.

1) Communicate Better

Someone once told me they were thinking of adding “Sent from my iPhone” to their laptop email signature so that they could justify email replies that were short, terse, and grammatically messy. While others see increasing technology as a way to communicate more, he was looking to blame technology for his increasingly rude communication.

Just because we can send a dozen four-word responses from the back of a cab, are these responses actually helpful and effective? Or are they a way of treading water, making us feel better about our actions instead of focusing on the outcomes of our commuication? An email or text should answer a question completely, finish an idea, not prolong a discussion better handled in person.

Rule #1: Read every outgoing email one more time, asking yourself, “am I making assumptions in this email, am I just answering to answer it, or is there a way to make this simpier and clearer?” Adjust accordingly.

2) Listen More

This one is a perennial. I’m a horrible listener. I just jump to the end of what I assume the person I’m talking to was about to say and start answering questions before the question’s really been asked. I’m so focused on getting to the end of the solution, to prove that I know the answer, that I run pretty roughly over whomever is asking. I’m betting a few of you are the same way. Which is a horrible way to treat people, especially those asking for help. So I need to be better at listening.

Rule #2: Every time you’re about to answer a question while the other person is still asking it, give yourself a five second penalty: count to five in your head once the person has finished speaking before answering.

3) Mindfulness of Others

It’s super easy to get wrapped up in your own little world. Everyone is going through their own set of problems. Remembering that simple fact before you (alright, before I) snap at them lowers tensions and leads to better communication. Ultimately, helping someone else deal with their issue makes people more inclined to help me with mine.

Rule #3: Getting mad at someone’s actions? Getting frustrated because they are not doing something the way you would? Think of one possible (and completely justifiable) reason why someone would act that way. Then ask if you can help.

4) Prioritize What Matters

You’ve heard the joke about the guy under a street light at night looking for his lost keys. Turns out he dropped them somewhere else, but it’s so much easier to see under the street light. Most people (myself included) are happy to labor all day on the tasks we like doing, or that bring us the most praise, leaving the stuff that’s hard, scary, complex, and less fun to “later” even though that is the work that brings in more business or solves deeper and more meaningful problems.

Ask yourself, should you spend another hour re- re- re- re-writing the draft text on the website, polishing it to a fine sheen before anyone can see it, or should you accept that it’s good enough for now and launch it so people can see it? Just because you like re-writing and polishing doesn’t mean that it’s the most effective use of your time. 

Rule #4: Lists are an amazing way to see all the things you want to do. Just sort the lists so that the “nice to do” falls to the bottom and “the crucial and possibly on fire” stuff rises to the top.

5) Cancel Some Meetings

I’m not the only person who hates meetings. Everyone complains about them, but, like the weather, no one does anything about them. So start today. Cancel some meetings. Or shorten them. Or find another way to get the information to everyone in an easier-to-absorb fashion. Think of that weekly staff meeting where everyone goes around the room and talks about what they are doing. Is that the best way to use 2-4% of their work week? Do you wonder if anyone is really getting that much value out of them? What if you had everyone submit their to do’s as a bulleted list and re-distributed it to everyone? Or what if you changed the default meeting duration from 30 minutes to 15? Meetings are like the definition of a gas: they take up all available space. If you schedule a meeting to choose what color to paint the wall in the bathroom, and you make that meeing two hours long, it will take two hours to come to a decision.

Rule #5: I bet there’s a regularly occuring meeting you can cancel. Or at the very least, cut in half or rethink entirely. Meetings not in service of a solution are pure ego. Stop it. 

If you’ve got some recommendations for new years resolutions (besides lose weight and exercise more: those are simply givens), put them in the comments! And have a happy, safe, interesting and productive new year!